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NATIONAL POLITICS & POLICY | Abortion Coverage Emerging Among Central Issues in Health Reform

NATIONAL POLITICS & POLICY | Abortion Coverage Emerging Among Central Issues in Health Reform
[Aug. 27, 2009]

Abortion coverage is becoming the latest battleground in the debate over health care reform, with antiabortion-rights groups making claims that reform legislation would allow new federal funding for abortion, the Wall Street Journal reports. Abortion-rights advocates say that the health reform bills do not offer special treatment to abortion services. Abortion-rights advocates note that excluding abortion services would deny women existing reproductive rights. Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said, "There is no constitutional basis for taking that away or for any politician to use reproductive health care as a political football."

The issue of abortion coverage has surfaced at the town-hall meetings that members of Congress have been hosting during the August recess, the Journal reports. At Rep. Jim Moran's (D-Va.) town-hall meeting on Tuesday, antiabortion-rights activist Randall Terry was ejected for disrupting the meeting. Members of Planned Parenthood Federation of America have attended town-hall meetings to tell lawmakers to "make women's health a priority" in health care reform, Tait Sye, a spokesperson for the group, said. PPFA and NARAL Pro-Choice America are working to discredit claims that health care reform would expand abortion services with the use of federal funds.

Meanwhile, antiabortion-rights groups are funding advertisements against key policymakers. For example, the Family Research Council has created radio and television ads that will run in several states with potential swing-vote Senate Democrats. The National Right to Life Committee is using ads to target House Democrats opposed to abortion rights. Douglas Johnson, legislative director at NRLC, claims that before lawmakers vote, they "will know this is a bill to set up a big federal abortion program." According to the Journal, the House is likely to take a first vote on its health reform bill (HR 3200) in September.

Capps Amendment Seeks 'Compromise Approach'

Conservatives and some moderate Democrats have said they would not support a bill that does not explicitly exclude abortion coverage from any government-subsidized plan, and some Democrats have been trying to reach a compromise on the issue, the Journal reports. An amendment by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif), which was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, would require that insurance companies separate a portion of member premiums specifically for abortion services. The amendment also states that there would have to be at least one insurance plan that covers abortion and one that does not in each part of the country. The amendment would not affect current state restrictions on abortion.

Capps said that the "goal is not to have controversial points stand in the way of making progress." The amendment has received the support of some abortion-rights opponents in the House, including Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). Ryan said, "As long as we have no federal funding going to abortions, ... I think this will resolve the abortion funding issue." However, antiabortion-rights Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), chair of the House Republican Conference, claims that approval of the amendment "demonstrates just how far Democrats are willing to go to force taxpayers to fund abortion" (Johnson/Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 8/27).